Thursday, August 30, 2012

53-Man Roster Projection: Final Edition

The Miami Dolphins suffered a scare Wednesday night as the charter plane they were on backed into another aircraft and delayed their trip home several hours.

The week won't get much better for at least 22 Dolphins players, who will have to be cut or moved off the roster in another manner between now and cut deadline to 53 players, which is Friday at 9 p.m. ET.

Because the Dolphins' preseason is officially over with last night's loss to the Dallas Cowboys, the team's cuts could come at any time between now and tomorrow night and it would not be shocking to see a flurry of activity on Thursday.

Here is my final 53-man roster projection. You can check out my pre-training camp projection here and my preseason midpoint edition here if you'd like to laugh at how wrong I was.

One thing to keep in mind here is that the final 53 I project from the Dolphins' current roster will certainly be different than what we see come Sept. 9 at Houston. After the team gets down to 53, I'd say at least 3-4 players (possibly more) will get cut at a later point to make room for waiver claims.

Starters in italics

Quarterbacks (2): Ryan Tannehill, Matt Moore
Released: David Garrard, Pat Devlin

Tannehill is entrenched as the starter now, as shocking as that is to some of us that thought he was so raw he should sit his entire rookie season. The question is what veteran backs him up, and I have to think it'll be Moore. Garrard is an injury risk and is still not back on the field, while Moore doesn't have the trade value he once did after a rough preseason.

Devlin sticks around as the third guy, but I suspect he can be slipped to the practice squad and save the team a roster spot.

Running backs (5): Reggie Bush, Daniel Thomas, Steve Slaton, Lamar Miller, Marcus Thigpen (KR)
Released: none
Reserve/Non-Football Injury: Jonas Gray

Three of these guys are set. Bush is the starter; Thomas has looked good in the preseason despite some minor truancy issues off the field; Miller is a promising mid-round pick.

The question lately has been the battle between Slaton and Thigpen. Slaton has the better history as a 1,200-yard rusher and more ability in the running game, but the team is fairly deep there. Thigpen has impressed since coming over from the CFL, showing nice ability in the return game and some versatility as a receiver on offense.

Until today, I'd been cutting Slaton and keeping Thigpen, but with wide receiver so weak, I'l going to keep five "true" receivers and five backs, including Thigpen, who worked plenty in the slot last night against Dallas and is more of a receiver than a rusher anyway.

Of course, this situation is fluid and one of these backs could be gone if the Dolphins want to add a receiver on waivers as expected.

Fullback (1): Jorvorskie Lane
Released: none

With Ryan Mahaffey and Jerome Messam gone, Lane has had this position to himself and has truly taken advantage. I didn't expect much out of a guy that has been out of the INDOOR FOOTBALL LEAGUE since 2010, but Lane has gotten in shape and has shown nice hands and incredible power running through would-be tacklers.

Wide receivers (5): Legedu NaaneeBrian Hartline, Davone Bess, Marlon Moore, Rishard Matthews
Released: Clyde Gates, Roberto Wallace, Jeff Fuller, B. J. Cunningham, Chris Hogan

No position on the Dolphins' roster has come under more scrutiny this preseason and no position has been harder to predict. Even projected starter Naanee isn't totally safe after a terrible preseason when he only came out of invisibility to drop passes.

Right now, I still think Naanee is safe along with Bess and Hartline, although Hartline needs to get on the field quickly after missing the last month with a calf injury. Marlon Moore appears to be the current fourth receiver, which would suggest he's the safest of the rest.

Beyond that, I'm keeping only the drafted rookie Mathews, plus "running back" and returner Marcus Thigpen. That means a handful of guys get the ax, including Clyde Gates, Roberto Wallace, Jeff Fuller, B. J. Cunningham and Chris Hogan. The final three are eligible for the practice squad and we should see at least a few of them back.

Tight ends (4): Anthony Fasano, Charles Clay, Jeron Mastrud, Michael Egnew
Released: none

Here you have two guys (Fasano and Clay) that are totally safe and two that are totally not. Mastrud makes it for now as a blocker, but he's going to be a strong candidate to be replaced by a waiver claim. Egnew probably makes the team as a third-round pick, but he really couldn't have a worse reputation right now.

Offensive tackle (4): Jake LongJonathan Martin, Lydon Murtha, Ray Feinga
Released: Andrew McDonald, Will Barker, Will Yeatman

Long and Martin are locked in as the starters assuming Long returns from his sprained MCL in time for the opener. Murtha has also been dealing with a foot injury so the depth at tackle is a bit weak right now.

That's why I'm keeping Feinga, who started at left tackle last night and has been working there extensively in camp. Feinga will give the Dolphins a reliable practice body with Long and/or Murtha sidelined.

McDonald would probably be the next likely to be kept as the second-team right tackle, but I see him serving that role on the practice squad. Yeatman and Barker don't seem to have much of a chance and will simply be hoping for a practice squad spot of their own.

Offensive guard (4): Richie IncognitoJohn Jerry, Artis Hicks, Nate Garner
Released: Chandler Burden

Incognito is the lone locked-in starter of this bunch, with no one pushing him at left guard. In all honesty, he's probably the most reliable lineman on the team after Long.

The other starting spot is where the question is. Personally, I've seen enough solid play from Jerry in the last two games to give him the first shot at the right guard job in the regular season, especially when you consider that Hicks has been dinged up and offers basically no upside.

I think Garner sticks despite an ankle injury and some shaky play last year. His versatility is still a plus in practice, especially with other players injured right now. He's not on totally solid ground, but I'd say he's worth a spot on the 53.

Center (2): Mike Pouncey, Josh Samuda
Released: Ryan Cook

Cook drew the start last night against Dallas, but undrafted rookie Samuda is having a great preseason and has been listed as Pouncey's top backup the entire time. I can't envision Cook and his $1 million salary sticking on the bench over Samuda now.

Defensive end (5): Cameron WakeJared Odrick, Olivier Vernon, Derrick Shelby
Released: Jamaal Westerman, Jarrell Root

Wake and Odrick are obviously the no-brainers here. Vernon makes the team because of where he was drafted despite a weak preseason and Shelby makes it as an undrafted rookie after an impressive preseason.

I could envision the Dolphins keeping five rushers with Westerman, but he routinely played with the third team in games and they don't seem to be too impressed with him. I needed more depth elsewhere, so I sacrificed a fifth end here.

Defensive tackle (4): Randy StarksPaul Soliai, Tony McDaniel, Kheeston Randall
Released: Ryan Baker, Isaako Aaitui

Starks and Soliai are a force in the middle of the Dolphins' defensive line. I also think Randall makes the team after a tremendous preseason. He certainly seems to have some upside and I honestly wouldn't be surprised if he made McDaniel expendable considering Odrick can play inside as well.

I like Aaitui too, but I'd put him on the practice squad unless we cut McDaniel. Baker on the other hand doesn't have any upside and I'm ready to move on.

Outside linebackers (4): Kevin BurnettKoa Misi, Jason Trusnik, Gary Guyton, Josh Kaddu
Released: Jonathan Freeny, Shelly Lyons

With the starters locked in, the question here is which backups are kept. Lyons and Freeny are on the outside looking in, although Freeny has had a pretty solid preseason from what I've seen.

I initially had Trusnik as the veteran backup and Kaddu as the raw rookie, but I'm keeping Guyton too. He's had a very up-and-down preseason but he has starting experience that is valuable with Dansby and Burnett dinged for much of the preseason.

Middle linebackers (2): Karlos Dansby, Austin Spitler
Released: Cameron Collins

Loud-mouth, overpaid Dansby sticks as a starter. Spitler has had a strong preseason and has not been threatened by Collins who can only hope for a practice squad spot.

Cornerbacks (4): Sean SmithRichard Marshall, Nolan Carroll, Quinten Lawrence
Released: Vince Agnew, Kevyn Scott

With the trading of Vontae Davis, Smith and Marshall are no longer threatened for their jobs, although neither has been that consistent and this is certainly going to be a rough season. Nolan Carroll had a very up-and-down game against Dallas but seems to be in the staff's favor and should have a roster spot.

With Jonathan Wade gone, there is very little experience on the roster for a fourth corner job. If I had to pick from this bunch I'd go with Lawrence, but I suspect the final guy isn't on the roster yet.

Safeties (5): Chris ClemonsReshad Jones, Tyrone Culver, Jimmy Wilson
Released: Anderson Russell, Tyrell Johnson
Injured Reserve: Kelcie McCray

A battle for the starting safety spots never materialized and Clemons and Jones should keep this roles if healthy. (I'm looking at you, Clemons.) I think Culver sticks as a reliable veteran backup, while Wilson remains intriguing enough to keep.

Johnson hasn't done enough to make the team, while Russell had a shaky game against Dallas. With depth needed in other areas like receiver and the offensive line, I can't justify keeping a fifth safety for special teams right now.

Special teams (3): Dan Carpenter, Brandon Fields, John Denney
Released: none

What more is there to say here? Nothing. These guys rock.

Practice Squad

The Dolphins will likely get a few of their practice squad players from other teams' cuts, but if I were to make an eight-man practice squad from the Dolphins' cuts above, this is how it would look:
  • QB Pat Devlin — Devlin sticks at the third quarterback but saves the Dolphins a roster spot to use elsewhere but staying on the practice squad.
  • WR Jeff Fuller — Fuller's drops remain an issue, but he has size and upside to go along with a history with Tannehill.
  • WR B. J. Cunningham — Cunningham is a solid but unspectacular prospect. The rookie sixth-rounder has been outperformed by Matthews but should be kept here.
  • OT Andrew McDonald — McDonald has worked himself into the second team and would continue to work behind Jonathan Martin at right tackle in practice.
  • DE Jarrell Root — With only four ends on the active roster, Root sticks as a camp body and a great personality.
  • DT Issaako Aaitui — Aaitui showed promise in the preseason and is worth keeping here if he doesn't make the 53 should McDaniel get cut.
  • CB Vince Agnew — With only four corners kept on my active roster, Agnew sticks around a second straight season for practice depth.
  • CB Kevyn Scott — Like Agnew, Scott provides practice depth with only four corners on the 53-man.
    One thing to keep in mind is that not every cut is eligible for the practice squad. For example, Clyde Gates has too much NFL experience to be eligible, so he is not an option here.

    Stay tuned today and tomorrow as I live blog all the Dolphins' cuts as they happen, plus be sure to follow me @phinsspotlight for the latest news and analysis!